I hope you’ll indulge me this week. I want to tell you a story. It’s a story about United Airlines and Ministro Pistarini International Airport (EZE), in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
It’s a story of absurdity, surreal circumstances, crazy security and airline officials gone mad. It’s a story of airline management incompetence. It’s a story of already trying airline travel taken almost to the level of intolerability by out of control airline personnel.
Last month, my wife and I returned from a cruise to Antarctica. The cruise ended in Ushuaia, Argentina. From there we flew on a charter to Jorge Newbery Airfield (AEP) in Buenos Aires, a 40- minute bus ride to EZE.
Upon our arrival at EZE the fun began!
Our United flight on a Boeing 767–300 was scheduled for 9:00 p.m. When I checked in by computer the night before, United reminded us to be at the airport at least three hours in advance of our departure.
4:45 pm — We arrived at our EZE terminal.
After entering the terminal we couldn’t find the United ticket counters. We asked a few people in a line in front of unnamed/unmarked ticket counters if they knew where the United counter was.
They told us to get in line behind them. They were the end of the line for United’s check-in. The unmarked counters were United’s. They also told us United wouldn’t be opening their ticket counters until 6:00 pm, more than an hour away, as they only had two more flights that evening, ours at 9:00 pm and one to Houston, 90 minutes later.
4:50 pm — We were 28th and 29th in line. As the minutes ticked by, the conversation was multilingual and amiable. The number of passengers in line grew seemingly exponentially.
6:00 pm — The United personnel arrived to a line of more than 200.
6:20 pm — After 20 minutes of set-up, the United ticket counter finally opened.
6:36 pm — We got to the first United ticket counter checkpoint where a woman asked us security questions, and examined our passports (1st time), then sent us to the ticket counter. Our passports were examined again (2nd time). Our bags were quickly checked in and we were given our boarding passes.
6:50 pm — Off to security.
The terminal had but one security line in service. Our passports were checked again (3rd time). We put our carry-ons on the belt for the x-ray machine. They had no bins. We went through the metal detector. I was lightly patted down.
My wife’s carry-on was selected for hand inspection. She had my extension cord in it. After checking it for almost ten minutes, including swabbing it for explosives, they decided to x-ray it again. It passed.
7:20 pm — We were out of security and off to immigration. Just like in the US, we had our passports examined (4th time), our photographs taken and our right thumb print examined. Presumably, the agent was comparing them to the photo and thumb print submitted upon entering Argentina, two weeks earlier.
7:40 pm — We were through immigration and in the duty free shopping area with food stands.
We purchased sandwiches and water for the flight.
7:50 pm — We were among the first of our flight to make it to our flight’s gate area, about three hours after our arrival at EZE.
8:00 pm — The plane was to begin boarding at 8:20 pm, just 20 minutes away, when some of the same United personnel who were at the ticket counter came to the gate area and began setting up stanchions and belts to create lines.
The funny thing was the lines were being set up about 75 feet away from the gate, near the entrance to the small seating area adjacent to the gate.
8:10 pm — We were asked to move, and told all the passengers were to be rescreened for our safety.
Please note, this wasn’t Argentine or EZE security personnel forcing us to move and be rescreened. These were the ticket agents who checked us in, who were now going to be security “agents” who didn’t wear gloves, by the way.
8:15 pm — The ticket agents began to run security rescreening at the gate area. Fortunately, we were first in line. They checked our passports (5th time). They didn’t pat us down, but checked my wife’s pocketbook and my roller carry-on, only opening the front compartment with virtually nothing in it. They confiscated the food and drink we purchased less than a half hour before, in the airport’s secure area.
We watched the rescreening until we boarded. We never saw them examine more than one bag per person. They patted down few passengers, but the few patdowns were harsh. They confiscated everyone’s food and drinks.
It seemed the rescreening was solely to confiscate our food and drinks, as it was otherwise very lax.
8:20 pm — The gate agent called for “zone 1” passengers to board. Four people went through the gate. No one else was going to the gate, so they called for “zone 2,” but no one came forward. Of course, that was going to be the case. So far, only about 15 people had made it completely through rescreening.
8:23 pm — They were already to our zone 3. We boarded, happy to be rid of the craziness we just went through.
9:15 pm — The plane’s doors were finally shut. With the security rescreening not starting until 5 minutes before boarding began and taking each passenger “too long” to get through it, they couldn’t close the plane’s doors until 55 minutes after boarding began, 15 minutes after we should have been in the air.
I ask you, “Is this any way to run an airline and an airport?”